Saturday, 28 January 2012

Creating a rock wall

Building a rock wall takes a great deal of patience, concentration, spacial awareness, mathematics and trial & error.

Child R (4yrs) was overheard expressing a concern to his peers about the amount of sand that was running into the pond through a gap in the rocks that surround the sandpit.

The educator was called away to support another area of play and when she returned roughly 10minutes later child R was observed in the dry creek bed collecting rocks and carrying them back to the gap.  Child R then began sorting        and classifying the rocks into size and shape before laying a row down.

When the first row had been laid, child R collected more rocks and returned to lay another row on top.  Again he sorted the rocks, however this row was proving a little more difficult as rocks needed to balance on top of each other.  The wall fell several times, but child R persevered, calling out for peers to get smaller rocks or bigger rocks from the dry creek bed.

 Once completed, child R showed an enormous amount of pride in his work, explaining to the educator how some of the rocks kept falling "but I just kept trying like a jigsaw".  He then asked if the wall could stay up so he could show his mum when she collected him.

This was one of my favourite experiences to observe last year.  Completely child initiated and carried out.  Child R demonstrated many skills through this project including an appreciation and respect for his environment, classification skills, mathematical concepts and wonderful
                                                                                    communication skills.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Identity and belonging

Identity and feeling like we belong are such an important aspect of our personal development.  Research shows that children who have trouble understanding their identity and forming secure attachments have difficulty thriving academically.

Maslow discussed this principle at length and documented it in his hierarchy of needs.  Knowing who we are and where we belong is fundamental to life-long learning and success both personally and professionally.  Early Years Educators have been feverishly learning about how we can support children within our services understand who they are and how they belong, to ensure the best outcomes for the child and meet legislative requirements.

I was blessed to be able to observe two of the 4 year old boys in our ELC, as they attempted to uncover what makes you belong to a family.

It began through a simple conversation at the easel.  J and R were discussing what they were painting.  J decided to paint his family, "Good idea" replied R and began painting his.  Both children kept checking in on the others painting, comparing similarities and differences in their artwork.  "Why do you have two girls in your family?" J asked R.  "UMMMM, that's my mum and my sister" R replied walking around to look at J's picture.  "Ummmm, your missing a sister on yours" R proclaimed.  "No, I don't have a sister, doesn't matter girls are silly anyway" J said.  R paused for a minute "who is them?" "That's my big brother and my little brother" said J.  Again R paused for a while, "Hey wouldn't it be cool if we were brothers!" he said  (These two have been very close friends all year) After a few excited laughs and 'high 5s' R looked at J "It wont work, your skin is a different colour to mine" he said "We can't be brothers, cause they have to be the same"

'Was this an intentional teaching moment??? Should I step in and discuss how families are different and unique, pointing out posters around the room and looking at our family photo albums with the children?  I could, I could, my mind was going crazy with all of the ways I could extend their knowledge, broaden their thinking and concepts.  Instead I stood back and waited to see what the two boys would do.'.......

"Just because our skin is different..... you know we are still friends" J said, and held R's hand.  Just then the two noticed they had brown flecks of paint on both their hands from their artwork. "Hey they look like freckles...... we both have paint freckles........brothers have freckles"  With that J pulled R closer to the easel. The two began mumbling to each other and both stood back from the easel at the same time holding a paint brush and began painting their arms.

Curious, I asked what they were doing.  "Just making sure we can be brothers" J said casually.  "yeah we have to look the same to trick our mums" R replied laughing

This one single child initiated experience sparked a great deal of discussion about families and how we look, amongst the group for the next few days, allowing plenty of opportunity for intentional teaching moments.

Discussing Risk

During a class last year discussing the importance of children taking risks in play to further support their development and independence, I was asked by a student "How I supervise children's 'risky play', what happens if the children hurt themselves?,  and how do you impose limits to ensure their safety?"

It took me a while to respond.  I had never consciously taken the time to reflect on the how's and why's, it just seemed to evolve, I understood the children's capabilities and trusted them and they in turn trusted me if I asked a question of their play or made a 'safety suggestion'.  I had difficulty with the term 'imposing limits'. Why should I impact on the learning if the risk is calculated and the children are safe?  I guess I was picturing a carer walking around the yard barking orders or nagging "Put that back.  That's not safe, or STOOOOOP!"

So I began to reflect on how we ensure the children's safety while creating an environment rich in learning, play and risk.

Throughout the year we discussed incidentally and purposefully with children the importance of their making safe choices in play, keeping our friends safe and respecting the toys and equipment.  Educators take the time during play or while guiding behaviours to point out "What would happen if?",  ''What could we do to make it safer?" and "Is it a safe choice?" Quite often we could hear children asking each other 'Is that a safe choice?" They began to guide each other and learn to take calculated risks. Towards the latter part of the year the children even began explaining why they had chosen to use certain pieces of equipment, which I will illustrate later.

Of course a HUGE part of supervision in risk is knowing the children.  As an educator, knowing and understanding what the children can do and achieve both individually and in groups and the interplay within the groups.  Understanding that each child will have their own skill set and capabilities and be close to offer support, when and if needed.

Another important element is setting the playspace, allowing room for the children to evolve their ideas and concepts, having enough 'loose parts' available to support their extensions, ensuring you can still observe or better yet be part of the experience and allowing movement of the objects if needed.

A few weeks after the question from the student, I was invited to take part in a play experience that some of the 3 and 4 year old children were developing.

It began simply enough, one child (R) wanted to create a "wall to keep the other kids out cause they keep messing me up".  He invited a close peer (I) to help him. (I) followed (R) to the tyre and together they tried to lift and manoeuvre it.  Rain from previous days had settled in the tyre and weighed it down.  I could hear them heaving and hoeing, (R) looked up and (L) was watching the two. (R) said to (L) "you can help us make the wall if you want, but you need to be really really strong" (L) quickly joined the group and they negotiated the tyre up and onto its side, rolling it along the path and squealing in delight as the water began gushing out.  ( I can already hear some of you shocked - what, children move tyres themselves, that s not safe, what if they hurt themselves or somebody else)

I  had thought about this and as I said earlier I knew the capabilities of these three children both individually and working in groups.   I weighed up the 'risk' compared to the 'learning', already the children had demonstrated amazing social, team skills, communication and negotiation skills not to mention cognitive concepts.  I was eager to see where it would lead. After placing the first tyre down the trio ran off to source more tyres, sometimes wheeling them back individually, other times in pairs.  (L) chose to push a tyre by herself and lost control dropping the tyre with her finger underneath (yes there was an accident, albeit a very minor one) however rather than being upset (L) looked at the educator "That wasn't safe of me was it? I should have waited for the boys" called them over to help her and continued on her merry way.
When all of the tyres were in place, a discussion occurred between the three on the best way to position them. (R) wanted them leaning against the step (I) said "but that makes them to wobbly and I can't climb the wobbly ones" the group continued negotiations and had many ideas.  I asked if they needed some extra help and began talking through each idea with them.

(R) was persistent that he wanted the tyres "wobbly" so as a group we set them up as a trial. (I) quickly balanced on one "See (R) they are just not OK, too wobbly"  I observed (R) silent and watching as (I) tried to negotiate his way to the top. (R) supported his friend as he neared the top "Look (I) is nearly there he can do it."  (I) stumbled a little at the top and quickly jumped from the tyres "NAH, its too wobbly"  (L) attempted to climb the tyres and stumbled, slipping into the centre of the tyre, she quickly looked up at the boys "hey lets stack them" All three were in excited agreement and began negotiating the stacks. Working together and asking the educator for a little assistance to make sure the tyres were safe and wouldn't topple.

The three then set about climbing, jumping and exploring, practicing skills, observing each other to acquire new skills and gaining confidence as they mastered them.

I was delighted to share this experience with the students next time I taught them.  This helped to illustrate what we had been talking about all those weeks earlier.  It generated plenty of debate about safety and other educators not allowing it to happen at the centres the students worked in and I left them with this thought.  " If we are truly to say we are implementing a play based, child focused program in our centres, then we need to be prepared to facilitate play, not quash it before it has a chance to grow and develop.  The creativity and learning, both individual and as a collective that occurred for these children in the space of 40 minutes would never have happened had I told them that the tyres can only be used for one purpose, can't be moved by the children or worse still, have to stay in one place. What skills have they learnt that will support them through life?" 

How do you support children to take risks at your service?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

New Years Resolution!

Did anyone else have trouble juggling the growing list of things that needed to be completed last year?
I know I sure did - hence the delay in blog posts.  I began this site so inspired and enthusiastic after following a number of blogs and feedback from many of the students at Coonara Community House, but as the year progressed I got caught up in the day-to-day tasks and stopped taking regular time to blog - which I find quite relaxing.

I have spent the last few days reflecting on 2011 - the year that was. Looking back through programs, learning stories and photographs of what we achieved in the ELC, the projects that we were able to take part in with the children, the opportunities to extend play and learning and the fun - you can't forget the fun.

I then realised I needed to make a resolution.  Taking into account how relaxing I find blogging my resolution will be to blog weekly, using it as an opportunity to incorporate reflective practice as well as sharing ideas with the blogging community.

I would love to hear your suggestions and strategies on how you make time to blog.
What tools do you use?